Archive for March, 2020

It’s been awhile, but I figured since we’re all stuck in, this is a good time for me to get back to writing (and you to reading).

After taking a bit of a Brie Break, I decided to finally hunker down (since we’re basicallyIMG_20200330_124857 being forced to hunker) and watch Brie Larson’s directorial debut, the Netflix original Unicorn Store. Obviously, Larson is not the first actor to test her skills behind the camera, and she even made this list of 12 female “bad-ass” actor/directors. I don;t know if she has reached the “bad-ass” plateau just yet, or if she belongs on the same list as Greta Gerwig when it comes to directing, but if Drew Barrymore can make the top 12, then I guess we’ll go with it.

That is not to say that there is anything wrong with her directing. In fact, Unicorn Store is a very fine first effort, and according to The Rotten Tomatoes Critic Consensus (and Matt Dursin agrees), the film is, “easy to like — and it suggests Brie Larson has a future behind the camera.” So, here’s the rundown of what this little film is about:

Kit (played by Larson) is described (by IMDB) as a twenty-something dreamer, a recent art school drop-out, in fact, who is now living at home with her weird, earthy-crunchy parents (Joan Cusack and Bradley Whitford. Seriously, whenever Hollywood needs a weird Dad, they call Bradley Whitford). After getting some bad reviews from her art professors for her whimsical, or just plain childish art, she decides all of that art crap isn’t for her and she gets a job. She in fact gets a temp job at an ad agency, and her role is to photocopy magazine ads. Despite the fact that it’s her first job, and her boss is a creep, she starts figuring it out pretty quick, and one day receives an invitation while at work to a store that, according to said invitation, is right up her alley. Kit discovers that no one else in the office received this invitation, so she finds it a little bizarre, but decides to check it out. She follows the directions to a nondescript building, and inside finds the answer to all of life’s problems: Samuel L. Jackson.

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I’m kidding. Well, sort of. She does find Samuel L. Jackson (whom Larson became great friends with while working on Captain Marvel, over the fact that he brought his light-saber to set one day), but the cure for all life’s ills is the fact that this is, in actuality, a Unicorn Store! Yes, if you can prove yourself worthy, and prove that you will love and take good care of this unicorn, you can take one home.

Kit is obviously ecstatic about this, and decides to prove she is worthy by building a proper stable in her parents’ backyard to house her unicorn. She hires a local hardware store employee, and promptly bonds with him for this task. She then sets about doing other weird things to prove herself worthy, including giving a presentation with a few co-workers that tries to make a vacuum cleaner seem interesting, and forge an understanding with her bizarre parents. It’s a little bit like Groundhog’s Day, I suppose, without the in-your-face comedy.

I won’t spoil the ending, but that’s basically what it is; a little Groundhog’s Day, with some Benny & Joon thrown in, with a side of every other movie about growing up ever made. So you might think that I wouldn’t like it because it borrows from so many other movies, but that isn’t true. It was actually a fun, harmless, whimsical movie that was sorely needed in this time of quarantine. It’s not a great movie, but it is, as the review says, “easy to like.”

My biggest problem with it at the beginning was that I thought it was a little too much like Benny & Joon, the 1993 rom-com starring pre-creeper Johnny Depp that is really only notable for giving the world “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers. Similar to Unicorn Store, Benny & Joon is “easy to like,” and most people who came of age in the early 90’s, like I did, probably remember the song fondly, but it’s not really a movie that leaves much of an impression or says a whole lot, except, I guess, love conquers all, which is what most early 90’s movies said, including Terminator 2.

I thought the two movies were similar for another reason, though, because I thought early on in Unicorn Store that Kit was, like Joon, mentally challenged. They never really say what her ailment is, but she exhibits a variety of symptoms which could point to dissociative identity disorder, OCD, Asperger’s and post-traumatic stress disorder. Really, it’s not crucial, but is why Joon is such a sympathetic character, because it is a huge hurdle to overcome. Kit, as it turns out, is really just an emotionally-stunted artist. I guess we’re supposed to believe that she’s just been living this freebird life, or that her parents messed her up with their hippie-ness, but when she has a nice heart-to-heart with her mother, it is revealed that they’re not really all that strange, but more that Kit just was too young and, let’s face it, daffy to understand. Her mother, Gladys, actually has the most quotable line in the movie when she tells Kit, “The most grown-up thing you can do is fail at things you care about.” Which is all she needed to hear, really. In fact, now that I think about it, if they had written Kit as a mentally-challenged person, like Joon, then it would have pretty much been the same movie, but you would have looked at her differently as a viewer. She does have her big moment of realization at the end, but in the end, all she really overcame was her own whackiness.IMG_20200330_124902

Still, if that’s my only complaint about a movie, then that’s pretty good, coming from me.  As someone who is hyper-critical of movies (in case you haven’t noticed), this one was actually refreshing in its simplicity. I’m glad that I can still enjoy a little movie with fun, little ideas, directed by someone who no doubt has big goals. And if Brie Larson decides to direct again, I think that will bump her up to that “bad-ass” category.

 

 

This is probably courting danger, because people seem more divided over these movies than they are over most elections. But with Rise of Skywalker being the supposed finale of the Skywalker saga (which I didn’t know was a thing until Rise of Skywalker was almost released.), I figure this is as good a time as any. And the way that this Disney Era unfolded, I was thinking that maybe it would be interesting to take a deep dive to see how these new ones may have impacted my feelings on the older ones.

I guess it’s best to just come out with it right now, so no one wastes their time reading this if they don’t agree; I was not a huge fan of the final two Episodes, or of Solo. Of the Disney Era films, Rogue One was spectacular, and Force Awakens was fine, but mostly because of Han Solo, who was a hold-over form the original trilogy.  Everyone is entitled to their opinions on them, and we have all read all the arguments for and against these movies, so I won’t reiterate them here (well, I probably will a little), but let’s just say that I personally just wasn’t feeling it. Ok, that was going easy. I hated Last Jedi.  I thought it was a poorly-paced, sad movie. And not sad in the way that Empire Strikes Back was a little sad, but sad in that it made the heroes look like complete nitwits. And I am willing to admit right here and now that there is a strong possibility that I wasn’t giving Rise of Skywalker much of a chance because of how much I disliked Last Jedi.

So, yes, obviously each movie impacts how I look back on the others. Some people like to point out that the originals weren’t great, either, and sure, maybe if I saw them for the first time as a 43 year-old man, I would think they were silly. But I didn’t, I saw them as a child, and I was enthralled. And when I watch them now, maybe it all is just nostalgia, the most toxic impulse, according to John Hodgman. But truly, in the last 40+ years, there probably hasn’t been too many days that have gone by where I haven’t watched a Star Wars movie, quoted a Star Wars movie, or just thought about them in some way, shape or form. So regardless of how people see the original trilogy now, I’m a fan and always will be.

The Prequel Trilogy is a different kettle of fish (or Gungans). I find Phantom Menace to be a really hard movie to sit through, and literally from the first words of the opening crawl, it’s easy to be thoroughly uninterested (What the Hell is a Trade Federation?). But we got to see a couple Jedi do some cool stuff, and it was the first new Star Wars movie that we had since Return of the Jedi in 1983, so sue me for being a little sentimental. In fact, the real disappointment with Phantom Menace is that there was actual potential to have a fun adventure movie, if only Qui Gonn had decided to defy his orders (as they allude he had done before) and free Anakin and his fellow slaves from the treachery of the Hutts with a little sword play, rather than win a bet by using The Force. But that wasn’t the direction they decided to go, so instead we got politics. Lots of politics.

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I suppose I can’t honestly say how I would look upon Menace now that I’ve seen the Disney movies, because I haven’t watched it in awhile and I don’t know that I will anytime soon. You could argue that I should have re-watched it before writing this whole thing, but I’m not sure what that would have solved. I would have been very surprised if I suddenly decided that it was a piece of cinematic art just because I didn’t like Last Jedi. Sometimes, boring movies are boring movies no matter how you slice it.

However, that doesn’t squash my whole theory. Attack of the Clones is next in the saga. It’s a strange case to me. A couple of my close friends and fellow podcasters think that it is the worst of them all. Seriously, we ranked all 11 Star Wars films, and this, they say, is the worst. As I said, I think Menace takes home that trophy, and Rotten Tomatoes agrees with me that it is worse than Attack of the Clones, with Menace owning a 53/59 critics/audience score. Not that I take a lot of stock in Rotten Tomatoes, but I did find it interesting that Rise of Skywalker has a 52% critics’ score, and an 85% audience rating, while Last Jedi has the crazy disparity of a 91% Certified Fresh score, but just a lowly 43% audience score. Now, you can’t go by the user ratings at all, because they’re completely false, and the website did have to change the way they do things after users were giving lousy scores to Captain Marvel before it was even released, but I do find it interesting that the last two Star Wars movies were flip-flopped like that.

I think the reason I look more highly at AOTC might have something to do with a fond memory of seeing it on an IMAX screen in 2002, when that technology was in its infancy. Back then, an IMAX theater couldn’t accommodate a movie much more than two hours. AOTC has a rather unnecessary and downright bulbous run time of 2 hours, 22 minutes, so it was edited down so it could be shown in an IMAX theater, and I noticed that it was much tighter and less boring with just some minor scenes cut out (Anakin and Padme rolling in the grass being one that really deserved to be on the cutting room floor. Or in the garbage.) You can tell that Lucas likes his old-timey detective stories as you watch Obi-Wan go back and forth trying to solve the mystery of who tried to assassinate Padme’, because there are so many scenes of him talking to people that it becomes incredibly tedious. Seriously, he asks that alien in the diner about the dart, then asks the librarian where Camino is, then asks Yoda where it is, then goes to Camino and asks that tall lady what’s going on, then meets the Prime Minister of Camino and asks what’s going on, and then meets Jango Fett, and then talks to Yoda and Mace Windu about all this, before he finally confronts Jango and they fight. While all this is going on, Anakin and Padme’ are doing nothing except making small talk and sex eyes at each other (He’s actually kind of creepy about it. He’s basically eye-raping her at one point, so much so that she tells him to not look at her “like that.” And in typical guy fashion, he responds, “Like what?”)

With a lot of that edited out, and just the bare bones, it’s not a horrible movie, despite Hayden Christiansen’s attempts to make it so. When the Jedi show up at the end to save our heroes, it actually is quite fun to watch. I had been hearing stories my whole life about how Jedi were great warriors, but I had never really seen much action from them until now. And of course, for 2002 special effects, make the movie CGI Yoda does. Of course, overall, the puppet is better for just hanging out, but the saber-fighting was still pretty cool in 2002.

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However (and sadly, it’s a big “however,”) the IMAX version of the movie is not the movie that we got. Similarly, people clamoring for “the JJ Cut” of Rise of Skywalker need not waste their time, because this is the movie that we got. Take them or leave them. Any movie might be better with a few cuts, but we don’t always get them, and such is life.

Interestingly, I found other similarities between AOTC and Rise. As far as pacing, as I mentioned earlier, they are very much alike, with the heroes jumping from planet to planet accomplishing almost nothing. We also find out a lot of things about the characters and their history. At the beginning of AOTC, we learn through their dialogue that Anakin and Obi-Wan have been through a lot together, including that nest of Gundarks, which is how the writers tried to make us feel about Poe, Finn and Ray at the beginning of Rise. Both movies also had a character slowly turning to the Dark Side, and The Emperor behind the scenes, pulling the strings.

Unfortunately for Rise, it was the final chapter of the saga, while AOTC is the middle chapter, so the action is still, pardon the pun, rising. So for my money, that’s a little late to be learning this much about these characters, since Ray and Poe had never, to our knowledge, even met before. It’s also a little late to tempt Ray to the Dark Side, because, let’s face it, that would have been a bit of a down ending. I mean, we knew going in that Anakin was going that way, but we still wanted to see how it played out. I get that you have to have drama, and it mirrors The Emperor trying to turn Luke in Jedi, but Ray’s almost-turn just didn’t have that same impact, probably because we had seen it fail already with Luke. And yes, I’m going to blame Last Jedi for throwing off the pacing of Rise so much. Sorry, fans.

But here’s my big problem with Rise, and by proxy now, the entire Skywalker Saga: Emperor Palpatine was behind it ALL! I mean, if we go back to the stories told in Menace, we are told that Anakin had no father, but instead we are to believe that Palpatine could use the The Force to create life (as he tells Anakin in Sith.) We are to assume then, that Palpatine used this power to create Anakin in the womb of this slave woman, and he would be The Chosen One, who would bring balance to The Force. I guess. Maybe Palpy had no idea that would happen and just thought it would be fun to create a kid. Either way, if Anakin is about 8 years-old when he is discovered on Tatooine by Qui Gonn and brought to Corusant (and then they go back to Naboo, but that’s a different complaint), then trains to be a Jedi for another 12-15 years, we can probably assume Palpatine has been stringing him along this entire time. Anakin is definitely buddies with him during AOTC, while Palps is also manipulating the Galactic Senate, the Jedi Council, and it seems even Count Dooku a little bit. He’s a busy man.

A few years later, he finally ascends to the throne of Emperor, takes over the galaxy, kills the Jedi and takes Anakin, who is probably in his mid-twenties by then, as his Official Sith Apprentice. Meanwhile, his pseudo-grandchildren are born (more on that later) and hidden from him. It’s not for another twenty or so years that Luke comes on their radar. Eventually, when Luke is about 23 or so, Palpatine thinks they can turn him to The Dark Side, but he also seems to think that Luke would make a better apprentice, because in Jedi he suggests that Luke take his father’s place at his side. That is fine, because he did the same with Dooku, twenty years ago. Vader doesn’t seem to agree, and thinks he and Luke would make a better team ruling the galaxy. Man, that Original Trilogy was pretty cool.

Luke refuses and Palpatine is killed and peace returns! Yay!

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Nah, sorry, not so simple. We now flash-forward another 30-something years and we find Ray, another Force-sensitive being, who we eventually discover is Palpatine’s granddaughter. Palp is up to his old tricks (and I do mean, “old”) as he literally raises an Empire and tries to convert Ray, just as he did with Ben Solo, who was the off-spring of Liea Organa, Anakin’s daughter. It works out exactly the same, as Ray resists and kills him… again.

Ok, Even going back to the Immaculate Conception of Anakin, 8-10 years before Menace, all the way to the finale of the Skywalker Saga, where he supposedly met his end, we are talking that Palpatine was pulling the strings in this galaxy for around 70 years, give or take. That is one long game he was playing. At any point did he just say, “This isn’t working. Maybe I should try something else.”?

Finally, the “It was ME all along” aspect of Rise kind of throws the whole saga out of whack because if Palpatine used The Force to create Anakin, then he is essentially his father, although I guess not biologically, but still, let’s go down that weird road for a minute. Anakin then sires twins, and one of those twins has a son, who follows his grandfather’s footsteps and becomes Kylo Ren. Meanwhile, Palpatine, even though he’s really gross and old, has a kid, and that kid has a daughter, Ray. I don’t recall if we’re told that Ray is his biological granddaughter or his Force-logical granddaughter, but for the sake of this discussion, I’m going with the fact that they’re one and the same. So, do you see where I’m going with this?

Basically, I’m saying that if Ray and Kylo are descendants of Palpatine, then all that pseudo-sexual tension during Last Jedi and that kiss at the end of Rise is REALLY GROSS! I’m sure that no one who made Rise of Skywalker was thinking of any of this when they were writing the script, and I’m the one who is reaching here, but the very fact that there is a little branch to even reach for is enough for me. With one creative choice, they suddenly turned Star Wars, the greatest space opera of my lifetime, one that captured the imagination of generations of fans, into Game of Thrones… without all the boobs.

There were tons of rumors and fan theories about Ray’s true parentage after Force Awakens, whether she was related to Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, or even Obi-Wan Kenobi somehow. I never read one theory that suggested she was related to Palpatine, and I suspect that’s because no one wanted that to be the case. But that’s the way they went, I assume because no one suspected it. Sometimes,  however, surprise isn’t always the best choice. Maybe people theorized that she was related to Luke because they wanted her to be related to Luke. The beauty of Star Wars to me wasn’t the intricate plot of the bad guy pulling all the strings. I can watch Usual Suspects for that. The beauty of Star Wars was its simplicity; good vs. evil, redemption, a little love story thrown in. It’s not Skakespeare, but it’s pretty damn close. The Scooby-Doo ending just threw all that out the window. And like I said earlier, there will be no JJ Cut, or no more movies to retcon this one (and don’t give me that novelization crap, because I can’t even…). This is the Star Wars saga that we got, and this is the one I have to live with. I’m just not sure it’s the one I wanted.

 

 

The good news is that you can own Rise of Skywalker now and make your own choice. Just click here and then tell me how wrong I am!